With around 200 bands playing 18 stages over four days, the Dallas Music Fest may be the best organized and least interesting music festival around. That's no surprise: The festival is the brainchild of John Michalak and Dan Bliss, the same out-of-town promoters who began the Cleveland Music Fest and the nationwide "Battle of the Bands" contest, which pits (mostly) high school students and their allowances against each other. The main problem with the DMF is that it places commerce ahead of artistry, slotting bands according to the number of $15 event passes they sell. Remember: Band members don't know when and where they're playing yet, so fans (or, more likely, friends and family) who buy those $15 tickets don't even know if they can attend their show. It's a flawed system, one we placed under the microscope when the festival premiered (see "Feel the Noise," December 4, 2003).
But for the moment, let's set aside the controversy over ticket sales. Let's assume the DMF is not a cash grab and has no intention of taking advantage of naïve musicians with big-label dreams. The second question becomes: Is the festival lineup any good? And the answer is a resounding shrug. With the exception of showcase bands like Radiant (Friday, 11 p.m., Gypsy Tea Room) and Pleasant Grove (Thursday, 12 a.m., Gypsy), the lineup is largely unknown. Can you tell the difference between Chasing February and Taking Forever? Do you know A Step Behind from A Foot Ahead? (For more fun with band names, see "Today's Top 5" on page 75.) This isn't necessarily fatal; the DMF is, after all, a showcase for unsigned acts. But isn't it a little suspicious when practically every established, over-21 band in the area opts out?
Before the ink dries on that angry letter, let me point out a few bright spots: Minority (Saturday, 11 p.m., Liquid Lounge), which made a big splash at last year's fest, repeatedly proves that age is no barrier to rocking the crowd. Metal fans will find no lack of shows to attend, including performances by local success stories Drowning Pool and Edgewater. And what heartless bastard could resist Heavy Metal Karaoke with Warrant's Billy Morris? (I'll even forgive the fact that Morris isn't an original member.) I'm also pleased to see nightly DJ and hip-hop showcases. Dallas' hip-hop community has been self-contained for too long, and it's time to throw those arms wide and introduce the city to the players, including Headkrack (Sunday, 10:30 p.m., Palm Beach Club) and Dot Matrix (Thursday, 10 p.m., Tom Cats). Ideally, any festival is an opportunity to find new audiences, but only if the crowd is there and willing. So here's the third question: Will Dallas come out for the DMF?
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Last year, Bliss estimated attendance at 15,000, although who knows how many friends and family members bought tickets and never showed? (Last year's festival also boasted 470 bands, compared with this year's 200.) Still, Bliss reported the venues had a great weekend, and it's hard to knock anything that can kick up business in Deep Ellum these days. Besides, who knows? Maybe some Dallas band will actually get discovered. (The band Losa was signed last year by Metal Blade Records. They have a showcase performance at 11 p.m. Saturday at Trees.) The festival is bringing in A&R reps from Columbia, Atlantic, RCA and Geffen. Even former MTV VJ and noted musicologist Matt Pinfield (currently vice president of A&R and artist development for Sony Records) is slated to speak at the Saturday panels. Of course, those A&R reps are the only people who can answer our fourth question: Will the industry insiders actually see any local bands? I e-mailed a handful and never heard back.